Preparing for an Ofsted inspection: expert tips to nail it

We'll guide you on preparing for an Ofsted inspection to get the outstanding result you deserve.
prepare for ofsted inspection
March 27, 2024
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In a rush? Here's the quick run down:

  • Let's dive in to the specific ways you can prepare for the Ofsted inspection
  • We spoke with experts and we've got some tips to help you nail the inspection
  • Some of those tips include promoting yourself, sticking to what works, informing your staff, staying calm, and conducting mock inspections

We talked to five nursery managers and leaders experienced in Ofsted inspections, including Early Years expert Dr. Sue Allingham. They shared tips and advice to help you reach an outstanding Ofsted rating.

1. Master the art of self-promotion

Now's the time to master the art of selling yourself and your team in your early years setting. Good Early Years practice means you won't have to prepare much for Ofsted. If you have implemented practices that are consistently outstanding, an Ofsted inspection should be an opportunity to show off your Early Years setting.

The call from Ofsted is the first point for you to sell yourself and your early years setting. To say “Yes, come on, we’re ready for you, we’re looking forward to it, can’t wait to show you around.”

"Be positive. Be competent. Ordered. Ask questions. Sell yourself, because that’s effectively what you’re doing."

- Ailsa Monk, Principal, Cotswold Montessori School

2. Stick to your strengths

When speaking with our Early Years experts they emphasised the importance of sticking to your usual routine.

Trust your Early Years curriculum choices, staff training, and your best practices. Inspectors simply want to know why you do what you do based on your setup and the kids' needs.

"The inspector said this is your time to shine. Because it is your time to shine. Do what you’re good at and don’t put anything in that you’ve never done before. It’s not a day for trying something new."

- Becky Pike, Partner, Hollies Day Nurseries

3. Telling your staff

If you are aware of Ofsted's visit before it happens, Early Years settings leaders have different ideas about when is the best time to tell their staff. The goal is to make sure your staff feels ready and calm before the inspection.

Reassure them that you are confident in your Early Years provisions and in them. Remind them that the Ofsted inspectors are simply there to gather evidence of practitioners' knowledge of the children and the quality of education.

"I waited until the end of the day to tell the staff so they could go home and relax as much as possible. There’s nothing that we needed to do or change that day specifically for Ofsted’s visit."

- Ailsa Monk, Principal, Cotswold Montessori School

4. Stay calm

When you get the call, take the time to reassure yourself of all the work you’ve done to prepare for this.

You might find it reassuring to revisit the Early Years inspection handbook and the Early Years foundation stage framework.

You may have improved children's learning, updated child safety measures, trained your staff, or created new staff recruitment processes. Whatever it is, focus on the chance to show off the amazing work you've done and not on what might go wrong.

Yes, it can be tempting to sit up all night making sure you know everything, but this is where you need to trust your instincts. A good night’s sleep is going to be more important than your last-minute cramming.

- Dr Sue Allingham, Early Years Expert, EY Out Of The Box Consultancy

5. Organisation

It's important for your staff to feel prepared before the Ofsted inspection. This is especially true for Early Years staff who may feel nervous, especially during their first inspection.

Remind staff they have the necessary knowledge and should feel confident sharing it with Ofsted. Inspectors aren't there to drill staff with questions about everything they do - they're there to see what the setting is like.

Inspectors may spend time:

  • Observing care routines
  • Doing joint observations
  • Finding out about your recruitment process through recruitment records, staff qualifications etc.
  • Looking at a risk assessment, fire safety arrangements, or how you record accidents
  • Chatting to a child's key person

All this to say, there are plenty of ways inspectors gather evidence to give an Ofsted result - staff don't need to panic about answering questions perfectly.

"I think the key to getting outstanding was getting more organised. In particular, we noticed that staff were getting really nervous because they felt like they didn’t know the right things to say or do. I think that might have held us back in the past because they were worried about doing the wrong thing."

- Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

How to be outstanding: The Ofsted Inspection Guide

Renewed and updated for 2023: Get ideas, tips, and advice on what it takes to be outstanding from Early Years managers and Ofsted’s Phil Minns and Wendy Ratcliff.

Get this guide

6. The post-call strategy

The team at Hollies Day Nursery have a strategy for when you get that phone call, which really can make the difference between good and outstanding.

  • After the phone call – inform everyone straight away
  • Make sure everyone feels confident about their room
  • Don’t put something in you haven’t done before
  • Get other practitioners to share their experiences from past inspections
  • Most importantly, hold a quick meeting the night before to tell all the staff how amazing they are

‍Reassure staff that, although it's important, the inspection judgement is not the be-all and end-all. Good practice is the most important thing and that will always shine through. The evidence gathered by inspectors is a snapshot of one day of hundreds at your setting and it will never be 100% perfect.

How to be Outstanding: The Ofsted Inspection Guide

Renewed and updated for 2023: Get tips, and advice on what it takes to be outstanding from Early Years managers and Ofsted’s Phil Minns and Wendy Ratcliff.

Download now

7. Ofsted language

The language that Ofsted inspectors use can be pretty specific. Making sure that your staff understand the relevant keywords the inspectors will be using is crucial in prepping your team to feel confident and prepared for the Ofsted inspector's arrival. Again here's where getting familiar with the Early Years inspection handbook can help.

Remember the Ofsted inspector isn't trying to catch you out. If you're not sure you understand a question, ask them to repeat it or ask another way.

We use a competency framework that runs in levels to assess our staff. It’s more about passion and talent than qualifications. Kind of like a learning journey. Within that, we use the kind of language that Ofsted wants you to know so that it’s a part of the staff’s whole process with us.

- Becky Pike, Partner, Hollies Day Nurseries

8. Mock Ofsted inspection

If you want to ensure your team feels more comfortable on the day, why not try a mock Ofsted inspection? Not only will it let everyone know what to expect, but offer a space to ask questions and get some great tips to improve for Ofsted and beyond.

You could even use this as further evidence to document how you support staff, as part of your provision's professional development programme. If a manager supports staff with joint observations and spotting excellent quality of education, this learning and development can be used in everyday practice.

"The mock Ofsted inspection was really useful to get staff comfortable with answering questions. In the real thing, they commented on how consistent and accomplished the staff answers were. The main difference was that everyone was so much more confident once they’d been through that mock process."

- Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

9. Best practice

You should be striving for best practice every day. If you’ve got a special ‘Ofsted day plan’, maybe it’s time to implement that anyway.

"If you do have special activities, and you think that’s best practice and want Ofsted to see, then why don’t you do that every day?"

- Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

Found some helpful tips? Well, we’ve got some good news. You can now download the full guide for free, with 12 different sections covering every area of your Ofsted inspection. Time to get the outstanding result that you deserve.

The big ideas

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Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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